Mississippi Smallmouth in an Unidentified Floating Object

“Hey! What kind of boat is that?” A stranger yells from his car window. This isn’t the first time this question has been asked of our group. “A drift boat,” I say, then try to explain its purpose and that we had just finished a 7-hour float down the Mississippi. “That’s awesome!” The stranger yells back after nodding his head in response to my best attempt at explaining our day’s activity.

Driftboat, Mississippi River, Fly Fishing

I’m sitting inside the drift boat that I along with my buddies Chris and Justin, had spent the past 7 hours in, as we floated down the mighty Mississippi River. My current job is a very important one… I need to watch the boat while Chris and Justin go back to our starting point to pick up Chris’s truck. It’s a whole game of musical chairs, or trucks if you will. Surrounded by 8wt and 10wt rods, boxes full of meaty flies and Yeti products covered in stickers keeping our drinks cool, I begin to replay the events of the day through my head.

I think about Chris almost forgetting to put the plug in the boat and the stories that would have inevitably created. I think about the disappointment we had when we saw the high and stained condition of the water, and the relief that followed when Chris caught the first fish of the trip.

Mississippi River Smallmouth

I think about my decision to switch to a popper and how that decision had a great impact on my success, resulting in two of my three largest smallmouth ever caught on the fly, including my new personal best. The sight and sounds of a large fish aggressively hitting a popper and the vision of my 8wt rod bent in half trying to contain the fish burn in my mind. The excitement I felt when the fish finally made it into the net and my appreciation for the buddies that were actively involved in its landing will not be something I forget soon.

smallmouth bass, fly fishing, Mississippi river, fly fishing bass


I think about my first attempt at trying to captain a drift boat and the frustration I felt caused by my lack of experience and the Mississippi’s active currents. Chris and Justin were encouraging teachers and didn’t seem bothered by the fact that I rarely had them in ideal position to capitalize on a fish. Over time, I started to get the hang of the drift boat and how it interacted with the river depending on the way I moved its oars.  By the end of the float, I felt exponentially more confident.

Mississippi River drift boat, fly fishing Minnesota, Mississippi river fishing

I think about our targeted species of the day, the smallmouth bass and how much fun they are to catch, despite the fact they seem to be under-appreciated in the fly fishing realm. There are pockets of fly guys and gals that focus their energy on smallmouth and prefer them over other species, but most fly anglers haven’t spent much time truly targeting these fish. They may accidentally catch one in marginal trout water hunting for that trophy brown, only to be disappointed. Until recently, that was me; but I have spent more time focusing on bass and other warm water species and have grown an appreciation for them.

minnesota fly fishing, smallmouth bass, fly fishing, mississippi river

I think about the time spent in nature with good people. The shared excitement in someone’s success, the good-natured hassling that follows a missed fish, or the captain making a bad drift through a run and floating right over “the habitat”. I’m pleasantly surprised at the thought that I’ve only known most of these people for 1-2 years, but spending a whole day together in a glorified raft is no big deal. The common bond we share and time spent outdoors together ages friendships beyond the actual time of their existence.


Mississippi River Float July 2018


“Hey! – what kind of boat is that?”

Had we been in Bozeman, Montana or Jackson, Wyoming, this would not have been a question; but we were 30 minutes north of Minneapolis, Minnesota where Lund-walleye boats and canoes rain supreme, and drift boats are unidentified floating objects. “Are there trout in here?” is a common question we get while fishing warm water systems. The misconception that fly fishing is only for trout is still prevalent. In a sense, this can be frustrating, but taking into consideration the lack of other anglers enjoying what we had spent the last 7 hours enjoying, maybe I’m no longer going to be frustrated by it.

drift boat, mississippi river, fly fishing, smallmouth bass

All pictures were taken and provided by Justin Carfagnini

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